While parents often have the best of intentions when it comes to their athletes, sometimes they can be unintentionally adding too much pressure. That added pressure can lead to a decrease in performance as well as a decrease in the overall enjoyment of the sport. Before we get to much into it we must first define what pressure means because it can commonly misused. Pressure is the perception that something is at stake depended solely on the outcome of the performance. This means that not only is pressure in your head it creates stress that is counterproductive to your performance and manifest both psychologically and physiologically. The following are the 3 most common sources of pressure that parents put on their athletes and how to prevent it.
I know that it may seem crazy that support can add pressure to an athlete but is that way that we give support that can be counterproductive. The athlete must know that your support and love are not contingent on how well they perform but that you are their number one fan no matter the outcome. It is important to not teach them that your interactions will differ if they fail. Pressure creates stress and the more stress that we are under the more we resort back to our most basic needs, in this case, fear of abandonment. The athlete is more likely to move away from focusing on automatic execution and be more focused on how they look and how others are judging them. Be as equally supportive when they fail or fall short as you would be when they succeed and remind them that you support them no matter what they do.
Growing up my parents would often reward me for having a good game or based on my stats and while that was motivating at first, when I did have an off game in it created too much anxiety. When a reward is contingent solely on how we perform it increases our stress levels and causes counterproductive anxiety. It can eventually lead to lack of sportsmanship and the desire to cheat or be overly competitive so that they can receive the reward. If the reward is not met on a consistent basis or removed from the equation it can lead to a lack of effort. It can also lead to a breakdown in confidence if they fail to meet the qualifications for their reward, even if they still made improvements or performed well. I was often paid for points scored in a game which would turn my focus solely towards points and neglected how many rebounds, steals or assists that I had or that we won the game. It is okay to reward athletes for doing a good job and working hard but it should not be used as a motivator prior to the performance especially for long terms.
Rivalry is a huge creator of pressure especially when it is created by others. In this case, sibling rivalry will be the focus. One of the most basic human needs is to fit into a group and when you fuel a sibling rivalry you are creating a ranking system among the group which is counterproductive for performance. If the athlete feels that this imaginary competition is going to affect the “ranking system” within their group, which should be a safe space, they are constantly going to feel like they must prove themselves for the wrong reason which creates more pressure. Don’t get me wrong, competition is a good motivator, but when it effects wants rather than needs. We want to win awards and games, we need to feel valued with in our family. If they are constantly trying to prove their value they are not focused on their performance. To prevent this from happening constantly encourage individuality among your athletes and praise them as individuals not in comparison to each other.
Be careful not to create too much unnecessary pressure for your athlete, it can eventually lead to burnout.